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What is SEND (Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities)?

Children learn at different speeds and in different ways. Often children may need extra support with some learning tasks but this does not necessarily mean that they have Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities. 

Only children who require additional and different support because they have:

  • a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age


  • a  disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream education

are classified as having SEND.

A child or young person does not have a learning difficulty or disability solely because the language (or form of language) in which he or she is or will be taught is different from a language (or form of language) which is or has been spoken at home.

Schools and early year’s settings such as nurseries have a legal responsibility to identify children with SEND, inform parents and make sure they get the right support as early as possible to help them learn and progress through a graduated response. This is described in full in the SEND Code of Practice

Most children with SEND are supported through high-quality teaching differentiated for individual pupils or under SEN Support within their mainstream school.

Every school has to:

  • publish an SEN Information report, that describes what they have in place to meet the special educational needs and disabilities for pupils in their school   
  • have a Special Educational Needs and Disability Co-Ordinator (SENDCO).

Please see SEN Support in Mainstream Schools for more information about SEN Support.  

Only a very small number of children/young people with more complex SEND will need be supported via an Education, Health & Care Plan (EHCP).

  • Most children with an EHCP will continue to attend mainstream schools.
  • Only a small number of children with an EHCP will be placed in a more specialist setting (e.g. enhanced provision within a mainstream school or special school).

Please see Requesting a Statutory Assessment for an EHCP (SEND Information for parents and young people) for more information about getting an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP).

How the law describes SEND

The Children and Families Act 2014 explains that a child or young person aged from 0 to 25 years old is said to have special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) if they have:

  • a learning difficulty
    • significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age 
  • and/or disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions
    • A disability is defined under the Equality Act 2010 as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.
  • which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her
    • educational or training provision that is additional to, or different from, that made generally for others of the same age in -  
      • mainstream schools in England, 
      • maintained nursery schools in England, 
      • mainstream post-16 institutions in England, or  
      • places in England at which relevant early years education is provided.
    • for a child under 2 years of age, special educational provision means educational provision of any kind.

A child under compulsory school age (aged 5 - 16) has special educational needs if he or she is likely to fall within the definition above when they reach compulsory school age or would do so if special educational provision was not made for them.

Post-16 institutions often use the term learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD). The term SEND is used across the 0-25 age range and includes LDD

Types of SEND

The SEND Code of Practice categorises SEND into 4 areas of need:

Cognition and Learning

  • SpLD - Specific learning Difficulty - difficulty that affect one or more specific aspects of learning. This encompasses a range of conditions including dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia etc. SEN Support Resources for Pupils/Students with Dyslexia
  • MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty - well below expected levels of attainment in all or most areas of the curriculum, despite appropriate interventions. They will have much greater difficulty than their peers in acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills and in understanding concepts. They may also have associated speech and language delay, low self-esteem, low levels of concentration and underdeveloped social skills. 
  • SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty - significant intellectual or cognitive impairments and are likely to need support in all areas of the curriculum. 
  • PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty - have severe and complex learning difficulties as well as a physical disability or sensory impairment.

Communication and Interaction

  • SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Needs - difficulty in communicating with others such as difficulty saying what they want to, understanding what is being said to them, difficulties understanding and applying social rules. SEND Support resources for pupils/students with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) 
  • ASC - Autistic Spectrum Condition - including Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism with associated difficulties such as difficulties with language, communication, imagination and social interactions.

Social, Emotional and Mental Health

Physican and/or Sensory

  • VI - Visual Impairment - Partial or complete loss of sight not correctable by usual means (e.g. prescribed glasses or contact lens).
  • HI - Hearing Impairment - With a degree of hearing loss. Hearing Impairment Resources
  • MSI - Multi Sensory Impairment - combined vision and hearing impairments.
  • PD - Physical Disability - limitation on a person's physical functioning, mobility, dexterity or stamina.

Useful links

Information about particular medical conditions

Resources to support particular areas of needs

Meeting the needs of children with SEND